Monday, February 17, 2014

Are Business Listing Services Actually Impartial?

ImageLocal listing business services—especially Yelp—have lately been under scrutiny.  Many users have argued that the sites do not offer impartial reviews from consumers as the sites also offer paid advertising campaigns. In many ways, it can be called a slippery slope at best and conflict of interest at worst. The following question has yet to be answered:

Are review sites and local business listing services really impartial?

Or, do other factors play a substantial role in how businesses are listed on Yelp?  One current theory making the rounds is that local business listing services and review sites use paid advertising space as leverage to make some small businesses appear superior to their direct competitors.  In other words, businesses that pay for advertising get more than additional pictures or flashing banners; they get better reviews and higher rankings. 

Does Yelp Have a Conflict of Interest with Businesses Listed on the Site?

It is easy to see how a conflict of interest could arise in the relationship between a review site that provides prime advertising space by nature and paid advertisements for businesses on the same site.   Furthermore, there is no way for an individual outside of Yelp to definitively prove that reviews were added, removed, or fabricated after a business agreed to pay a certain amount for an advertising campaign on the platform – or refused to buy into Yelp’s paid business listing services. 

Common Issues Regarding Public Access and Reviewers

It is well-known that reviews for businesses can be less than accurate.  Whereas some reviews are fabricated or falsified to either promote one’s own business or disparage a competitor’s business, other reviews can simply be a little off.  Many would argue that a review about a business written by a reviewer that openly admits that he or she has never actually patronized a business is probably not a very helpful or accurate review.  But is it the role of the review site to sort through these, and remove them?

However, sites like Yelp do not claim to have accurate reviews.  They claim to post impartial reviews.  It is not too farfetched to claim that impartial reviews entitle every person with internet access to his or her own opinion about almost any aspect of a business. Reviews by genuine reviewers might be somewhat absurd.  However, it could be assumed that a small business concerned with customer service would gain enough positive buzz to negate poor reviews, and vice versa. 

What’s Next For Small Business Owners

For the foreseeable future, small business owners should rely on providing top products and services, and monitoring their online reputations across all directory and social media platforms.  The way business listing sites are run is out of business owners hands, but we do have the power to shape our online images by responding to bad reviews and amplifying the good ones.

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